Village halls vary from the opulent to the austerely functional - this post about The Langtons has an example of each. Even so, it was a surprise to find this unlovely example in the ancient village of Mowsley today. But there is an interesting history behind it, and that history begins with smallpox.
Popular feeling against compulsory vaccination seems to have been at its strongest in the East Midlands - I caught a faint echo of this as a councillor in the 1980s when the fluoridation of the water supply was proposed.
Partly as a result of this, a different way of preventing the spread of smallpox was devised by Leicester's solidly Liberal council. A paper from 1980 by Stuart Fraser described the 'Leicester Method':
The essentials of the method were prompt notification of a case of smallpox to the Medical Officer of Health, isolation of all cases in the town's Fever and Smallpox Hospital, and quarantine for all the immediate contacts of the original case. The premises were thoroughly disinfected, and latterly all quarantinees were financially compensated for time lost from work. The method, originally formulated in 1877, and modified in 1893, made no specific reference to the use of vaccination.The method was adopted across the county, and the construction of an isolation hospital just outside Mowsley (off Theddingworth Lane) began in 1903. Mowsley: A Leicestershire Village by John Wootton and John Lacey takes up the story:
The buildings were of the Army Hut and fairly limited in number. However, the success in eradicating smallpox was so successful that even that small unit was under-used. So, in 1912, the hospital was turned over to the long-term treatment of Tuberculosis (TB) which had, unfortunately, not been stamped out.
At the outbreak of the First World War, medical inspection of hundreds of thousands of recruits revealed that illnesses such as TB were almost endemic and so isolation hospital were set up in many counties. In 1914-15 the Mowsley hospital was extended to a capacity of more than 70 at a cost of £6000, and a chapel was added in 1923.
At its peak, the hospital must have employed about thirty people - two doctors, a nurse, a matron and say, a dozen nurses and an equal number of domestic staff to cook, clean and wash the linen. The senior doctor was named - rather improbably - Noel Coward. Matron Hobart was remembered as a "stern Yorkshire lady who organised the Mowsley and Laughton Women's Institute in the 1920's".Wootton and Lacey estimate from census returns that there would have been around 70 patients at any one time and say the hospital was closed in 1932 or 1933 and demolished in 1934.
What does all this have to do with Mowsley Village Hall? Wootton and Lacey tell us that it is a former isolation hospital building set on a brick base to add height. They say it was set up in its current location in 1926/7, which suggest that the hospital was already being run down by then.
And there is more. Researching this post, I discovered that the chapel from Mowsley hospital still stands elsewhere in the county. You can find it acting as a church hall next to St David's, Broom Leys. You can see some pictures of its interior on the church website - it must be the Small Hall.
I feel a trip to Coalville coming on. And it's not often people say that.